NEW YORK — In a land that time forgot — before Paris, before 50, before TV got real and punk went pop — giants roamed the earth … leather-clad titans, rampaging from arena to arena, leaving a trail of empty bottles and spent women in their wake. They trafficked in thundering racket, and their decibels were matched only by their pyro, with flames seemingly meeting every fist pump and cymbal crash.
Excess was their business, and business was good.
But then, as forcefully as they came, they were ushered from view, obscured by smaller sounds and smaller shows. Message replaced mayhem, brooding replaced bravado and purpose replaced pyro. Suddenly, “too much” was no longer “not enough” but simply, well, too much.
But on Thursday, as Mötley Crüe’s Rock and Roll Circus Tour rolled into New York’s sold-out Madison Square Garden (for the first time in 15 years, by the band’s count), years melted away, rock got big again and the Crüe were once again the biggest, baddest band in the land — at least to the 20,000 packed into the home of the Knicks (check out photos from the show. ).
A lot has changed since the Crüe scorched the earth at the apex of their popularity. Fortunately, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the band itself, still loud, rude and tattooed as ever.
Opening for themselves (who better?), the Crüe served up an early set of early material that fittingly reached deep into their debut, Too Fast for Love and their breakthrough second album, Shout at the Devil. Returning to the stage after a short intermission astride roaring custom choppers, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Vince Neil and Mick Mars (the lone pedestrian in the group) immediately ripped into a vintage Mötley set that seemed torn from the group’s 1989 Dr. Feelgood Tour. Thick with anthems from that album as well as 1987’s Girls, Girls, Girls, the band delivered a late set that served up the hits and kept everyone — from freshly minted hipsters to aging metalheads to cubicle-dwelling closet headbangers — shouting along to every word (see “Mötley Crüe Plan Summertime Carnival Of Sin With Sum 41″ ).
All the while, the Crüe bashed away, Vince ready for battle in denim and a sleeveless army shirt, Mick playing the smirking lord of the underworld in head-to-toe black topped by a skull-and-crossbones top hat, Nikki fresh from the Thunderdome in tattered leather, and Tommy ready for, well, anything in a black thong.
The band slid from “Girls …” into “Wild Side” and then on to the Feelgood hit “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away),” a track that likely had more to do with the bandmembers themselves than any two-timing woman who ever wandered through their lives. But on Thursday there were no signs of the animosity and ill-will that has marked the Crüe’s sordid history. Mick and Nikki playfully slapped at each other between riffs while Tommy and Vince marveled as the crowd bellowed the first several verses of “Home Sweet Home” — “That was f—ing amazing,” Tommy gushed.
Indeed, instead of tension there was a surprising amount of love in the room, not just among the Crüe, but also among the fans, each seemingly glad to be transported to a time when rock was big and bummers were few. Grown men in Dockers and sweater-vests stood alongside tattooed hulks in leather and ripped jeans. While some held lighters aloft during the band’s ballad “Without You,” others opted to hoist their illuminated Blackberry pagers. Maybe it was the rock, maybe it was the pyro or maybe it was the “tittie-cam,” Tommy’s voyeuristic toy that made minor stars out of audience members willing to bare a little flesh (don’t worry, ladies, Tommy eventually returns the favor by displaying the most recognizable tallywacker on earth).
Beyond the flashing, beyond Nikki’s pyro-fueled theramin experiment and beyond Tommy’s drum solo (fans well know that it’s not what he plays, but where he plays, and this time out he’s about 40 feet above the stage), the Crüe trotted out groove-heavy anthems built for big rooms (and big shows). “Dr. Feelgood,” “Same Old Situation,” “Kickstart My Heart” and the new tracks “If I Die Tomorrow” and “Sick Love Song” helped to keep the energy high and the metal horns flying. The Crüe eventually wrapped their encore with covers of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and the Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the U.K.,” the latter featuring a stage full of patent-leather bikini-clad fire eaters.
It was big, loud and dirty … all things that rock was at one point. And Mötley — and their fans — wouldn’t have it any other way.